An Inconvenient Mudroom

mud room 001

Back porch, surprisingly tidy for the end of March. Not typical.


Actually, I’m not sure if I shouldn’t have called this post “Disorganization”. One leads to the other, and it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation if you ask me.

Example:  I need to go outside to haul fallen branches out of the garden.  It’s muddy, so I’ll need boots.  I grab my fleecy (hanging by the back door, no problem).  I step outside, trade my shoes for boots on the wet back porch (a tricky operation, since I don’t want to put a sock foot down on the wet porch), and head down the steps.  Oops, forgot the work gloves.   A moment’s internal debate – could I just go without?  Well, everything’s muddy and wet, my hands would definitely stay warmer in gloves.  Sigh.  Back up the steps.  Repeat the dance from boots into shoes.  Into the kitchen.  Down the basement stairs to the area of the work bench where I keep my pruning gear (and gloves). Back upstairs, and …

Example:  It’s a fine day for hacking blackberries.  Fleecy, boots, check.  OK, head downstairs for gloves and secateurs.  Sigh.  Take boots off, they’re still muddy from chickens this morning.  Take them with me across the kitchen and down the basement stairs to put on at the bottom.  This is hard for me; my feet hurt when I am not wearing orthotics.  Of course, I left my shoes on the porch, so even though I go out through the basement, grabbing my tools as I go, when I come back in, I come back to the porch…which is great foot wise, I can put my shoes on so I can walk, but now I have to traipse down the stairs to put tools and gloves away.  Or leave them upstairs and forget that fact next time, so I spent fruitless minutes searching for them…

Example:  In early summer, I head out to do some lawn mowing for a couple of hours (riding mower, big septic field and orchard – I know someone out there will say get some sheep).  I come in to grab a water, leaving a trail of grass clippings everywhere I go.

Example: time to let the hens out. It’s winter, cold with some snow on the ground.  Coat, boots, gloves, scrap bucket, egg bucket, water bucket.  Dang, I’ve put my boots on before I filled up the water bucket (which I’m doing at the kitchen sink, because the outside water is shut off for the winter).  Take boots off to fill the bucket? or cheat, and hope my boots are dry from sitting overnight and won’t leave a track on the kitchen floor?  Double dang – boots were not dry enough.  Coming back, I’m not just wet, I am now muddy from slipping in the mush outside the chicken house door.  My socks came off inside my boots, which means my bare feet are going to get very cold for a few seconds while I remove my boots on the porch before stepping into the house where I left my shoes to keep them warm and dry. Where should I hang my muddy jacket?  It ends up draped over the boots on the porch till the mud dries a little and I can bring it in.  Once I’m warmed up, and I’ve made a coffee, I set to washing the eggs.  The egg washing bucket is out on the porch, the rag I use to clean them with is hanging on the line.  Start washing eggs.  Cartons are downstairs.  Grab some, finish washing eggs.  Take them downstairs to the egg fridge, which is by the exterior basement door.  Toss the dirty egg water out over the porch, etc.  I’ve opened that kitchen door how many times and let out the warm air?  I’ve been up and down the basement stairs twice, three times?  How often did I trek to the sink to fill buckets or wash hands?

Example:  The dog (this happened with our old dog, and will happen again with our future dog, I’m sure) and I go for a good tramp through the fields, chase a few geese, push through a gap in a hedge.  I’m wore my boots, but the dog didn’t.  Not only that, but in chasing the geese, she cut through the flooded bit of field, so her torso is pretty wet.  A good shake makes her feel better but it’s more psychology than fact.  I can remove my boots on the porch, but she pushes past me into the kitchen, and dances around anticipating the biscuit that comes after a good rub down with a towel.  Muddy footprints everywhere.  The towel improves on the shaking job, but not enough, and the house smells of damp dog for hours.

Inconveniences:  the entry to my house is through the kitchen.  I do not want to store muddy boots in my kitchen, even with a tray, the mud gets tracked around.  I do not like getting my feet wet doing the one foot dance on our wet porch to get my boots on out there.  Moreover, in stormy weather, when the rain is coming in horizontal, the insides of the boots get wet.  I used to keep my gloves in a basket above the jackets, but people kept using them for their own purposes and they’d go missing or get holes in them.  I now keep them with my pruning gear on the back of the work bench – downstairs.  This would seem like a good place to keep the boots as well, wouldn’t it? Well, it would be if I was planning to head out the door for a project, or a mornings work, or to do chores.  But when I want to whip out to the compost with the dead flowers?  Or to the chickens with scraps?  I need something more than shoes for those places – it’s muddy round here.  If I cheat and nip out in my shoes, I’ll come back tracking mud.  To whip down the basement stairs though, and trek through the rest of the basement and workbench area to get to the basement exterior door pretty much takes “whip” out of the sentence.

Dream:  A space I can access easily and routinely that will hold all the outerwear for outdoor work – boots, coats, hats, gloves, work gloves, rain pants.  Shelves for buckets, egg cartons etc.  The egg fridge, right next to the big sink that would double as a handwashing and eggwashing station.  Space for the outside broom and a snow shovel. A place I could keep the dog for an hour if he/she (future dog) was too wet for the rest of the house. It would be nice if this space was near the laundry area, but I could settle without that.  A two piece bathroom would be even better, but really just a place to wash hands is enough.

This isn’t a new dream of mine. Somewhere in a box is a file folder of clippings from decorating magazines of creative storage solutions for outside gear and mud rooms – usually in homes that can’t possibly be connected to any mud whatsoever.  Some are pretty practical.  Some are just pretty.  But the yearning was set up anew when I was reading something posted recently by The Beginning Farmer’s Wife.  The lucky girl has a mudroom.  She also has 4 children (that’s a lot of potential mud), and pretty much zero budget for the type of solutions in my folder of dreams.  Her wonderful post shows a well organized space – not House and Gardens, but practical, attractive and well used.   After reading her post, I realized something really important about this whole issue of reconciling reality with dream to overcome inconvenience – it’s more about organizational skills and the ability to find creative solutions.  Money and a big house reno are not mandatory.

That said, she’s in a newly built home – it’s small and basic, but they gave it a lot of thought prior to building and made sure it had features that mattered to them – like the mud room.  It functions as an airlock in their mid-West climate – keeping the cold out of the heated house in winter, keeping the bugs and heat out of the house in summer.  It is most definitely for keeping dirt out of the home, but it is big enough to act as temporary storage as well, and has even been pressed into service as shelter for small creatures like chicks and calves.  It’s not perfect.  It doesn’t solve all her problems – there is a curtain at one end behind which she keeps stored clothing not immediately needed, and she’d like a better solution for that, but she’s philosophical about it, confident the solution will come.

My brother also built his own home and incorporated a very well designed mud room (though it’s the cleanest mud room I’ve ever seen) – his includes a powder room at one end, and not just a door from outside, but one from the garage as well, which can and does act as the first defence against mud and snow removal, since people coming in can enter through the garage before entering the mudroom.  Which probably explains why the mud room always looks immaculate.

Two of my hubby’s siblings in New Brunswick each built their own homes, each making sure they had mud rooms, each well designed and practical, though his sister’s is less for mud than his brother’s – it has a flower arrangement and knick knacks on a shelf…his brother’s mudroom, in a house on a large country property with a huge garden, is more practical.

My house is 90 years old.  It’s been added onto once, some renovations have happened over the decades, but no one has ever put in a mud room or a space designed for mud room stuff.  Why on earth not?  It’s been a farm since the beginning, so there has always been muck and mud to contend with.  Even before the addition in the 1940’s which put the kitchen and a bedroom on the south end of the house, the entrance was still from a porch on the south side (as it is now) – but they would have entered what is now the dining room, but was probably once the kitchen/eating area.  How did they manage, those women?

I was trying to remember how my mother coped with the muddy boots in this house when I was a child.  I think the boots and coats lived in the basement stairwell – it was configured a little differently then (you opened the basement door that led from the kitchen, and there was a landing before the stairs.  I think boots were there, and coats on hooks.  Maybe the boots were at the bottom of the stairs…).  Anyway, I’m certain we went out to do morning chores, evening chores and after school chores through the basement – the door locked from the inside back then too, (different door, though), but I think we left it unlocked all day.  Since the floor is cement down there, and the basement unfinished, this would have been a practical solution to the mud issue, especially with small kids – you know how they peel the muddy rain pants off and just drag them across the floor?

Thinking about Becca’s creative solutions in a small house, with a large family and a small budget, and how my mother also worked with what she had, I put my envy of picture perfect mudrooms on hold and tried instead to think through my own options more carefully.  Here’s kind of how the thought process went:

Completely reconfiguring the kitchen and dining rooms (which adjoin) is something we want to do, and we’ve done some drawing and designing to that end.  Part of that would be incorporating a mudroom/entryway.  But that is not happening in the next year or two, so needs to be considered as a back burner idea. A more immediate, low input solution is needed.

Keeping the boots and farm coats in the basement is worth trying out again, though it still doesn’t really get around the “whipping” out to the compost issue. I will probably create a space near the basement door that leads to outside, rather than the door from the kitchen to the basement, as my mother did.  The basement door from the kitchen was moved when I was a teenager to make it possible to go straight from the kitchen to the hall that leads to the other rooms of the house (before, when the basement stairs had a landing, there was no hall – you got to one room by entering another.  Want the bathroom?  From the kitchen you went to the dining room, from there to a bedroom, from there to the bathroom, from there to another bedroom – it was a weird set up, a result of a badly planned addition in the 1940s) and now you open the basement door and the stairs are right there, no landing.

Future mud room area in the basement, maybe a little clearing out to do first...

Future mud room area in the basement, maybe a little clearing out to do first…

I will probably keep one pair of largish boots on the back porch (the girls borrow my boots all the time anyway when I send them out for potatoes from storage, or to collect eggs, or to chase ravens – they have their own, but they like my lambswool insoles).  My boots with orthotic inserts as well as the lambswool insoles can be downstairs for longer term wear.  Farm coats, which are all quite bulky, can live downstairs.  The coat I wear to work, hubby’s coats and the girls coats can stay in the kitchen.  Wool gloves/mitts can stay upstairs (we don’t wear them for farm work), work gloves and my fleece farm gloves can go down.  I might keep a pair of cheap workgloves upstairs.

The egg washing bucket is more problematic.  I have no sink downstairs.  The laundry machines are down there, near to the area I plan to put the coats and boots, and there is a valve on the plumbing there where I believe we could add in a connection for a sink, and we could probably plumb the drain to join the washing machine drain (which goes to a grey water system), but that’s a bit more intensive than we can manage just now.  So short term, I’ll keep the egg washing stuff upstairs. Let’s consider this part of things phase 2.

The door being locked from the inside is really a non-issue I eventually realized.  If I go out that door, all I have to do is come back in that way, and I can lock it then.  The problem has always been if I go out that way and then come in the kitchen, forgetting I’ve opened the downstairs door, requiring someone (usually my poor hubby) to go and lock it last thing at night when I say as I’m hopping into bed:  “oh, darn, I think I left the basement door unlocked”.  But if I have to go back that way to retrieve my shoes, which I will, then I’ll be able to lock it when I come through.  Problem solved.

Will it be more inconvenient to keep everything down in the basement?  It depends on how easily I can get into the routine, and whether I can get the family to follow the same routine.  It’s one thing training small children to follow your routine, it’s different trying to convince teenagers to do what you do, and husbands – well never mind.  Maybe what I’ll do is say “I’m keeping my boots downstairs, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you though”.  Seriously, what I’ll probably do is ask for their ideas, because another thing about teenagers is that they always have ideas.  Husbands too.

To have all my outdoor stuff in one spot would be handy.   It is a longer journey from the kitchen to the outside basement door, no question.  It’s the same number of stairs however (I counted).  Less floor washing, fewer extra trips for forgotten items, less heat loss when I open the door to the heated part of the house so often…Will it put more time in my day?  That’s really the point.  And now that I’ve thought this particular inconvenience through, it’s fired up my mind to think through a few others, like feed storage, recycling set up, stuff in the barn, water storage and delivery, garden layout, filing, kitchen organization,  cleaning gear organization, pantry and root cellar storage.  Maybe this is spring cleaning of the mind…



11 thoughts on “An Inconvenient Mudroom

  1. df says:

    It sounds like the seeds of change are growing enthusiastically and that you’ll have a fully defined solution – at least for the time being – shortly! I completely understand your woes, and while we have a mudroom with many of the features that we knew we’d need when we built our new house, it’s missing other features that I wish we could have thought of. It’s also crowded because of our dozen budgies and one gerbil, who take up valuable floor and wall space. I find myself dreaming of the mudroom as I’d really like it, and then I remind myself that this is where we are right now…The anteroom at the top of the steps from our garage, just outside one of the mudroom doors seems to be a chaos magnet and we feel we have a solution for organizing it better this year, but as with all solutions I know it will be time limited and then we’ll sweep in with another fix.

    It is incredible how older homes, particularly on farms, never had mudrooms or spaces in which to collect and organize all of the outdoor related gear that is required. I can’t believe that the need for a mudroom is purely a 21st century one.

    I don’t think you could possibly think through your process-related issues any better and hope you can get the other family members on board with some solutions!

  2. Bill says:

    We have a mudroom, but how often I’ve gone in it, pulled on and laced my boots, donned the coat and hat then realized that I left the keys (or my knife, or my phone, or my ipod, or whatever) on the counter. It’s only a few steps and my boots aren’t muddy. Well, they aren’t very muddy. I don’t think they’d do any harm for just a few steps. A few muddy bootprints on the floor later I resolve never to do that again. Fast forward a week or so. Dang, I forgot my work list. It’s only a few steps and I don’t want to have to take off my boots and put them back on again. A few steps won’t hurt anything…

  3. In the house we live in (not the farm), we do have a mudroom at the front entrance and one at the basement entrance. I keep boots and gloves in both places – but I still forget something else just about every time and of course whatever it is, it is always in the opposite mudroom. We have a “no shoes in the house” rule – I am the rule-maker and the enforcer and I could just kick myself sometimes for that darn rule!
    The house we plan to build at the farm has an elaborately planned mudroom that goes into the kitchen on one side and into a bathroom on the other side, and will also have a pantry, workbench and laundry. It will open on the side of the house that leads to the kitchen garden, the barn, etc… It is the most important room in the house to me and will probably be a lot larger than your typical mudroom. Now, if we ever get around to building the house…

    • My kind of thinking! Actually, won’t your short term living quarters be in one end of the barn? How perfect is that? Great big mud room/barn, small space for sleeping and eating. Maybe you shouldn’t even bother with a house….

  4. don’t give my husband any bright ideas!

  5. farmerkhaiti says:

    reading this made me laugh!!!!!! Our entire home has turned into a mudroom, but I totally get the over the top thoughts of attempting to thwart the mess anyhow, and it seems you may have succeeded-I’m just giving up for now, much to my mother-in-laws chagrin. Your thought are inspiring to me as we plan for our future- how to design a proper mudroom in our new little house (someday it will be built, someday.) I’m really leaning towards a south facing multipurpose greenhouse/3 season type porch that we would have to enter the house through,complete with sinks,the compost toilet, washing machine and line drying ability right there too, plus all the boots, gloves, coats, scarves, etc. Also- I SO appreciate all your encouraging comments on my blog and it’s awesome to commiserate, eh?

    • Greenhouse/mudroom – what a great idea! And if it’s any consolation, absolutely nothing has happened to that pile of junk by the basement door – I had to get going on pig fence, barn repair, chicken/eagle stuff, kids, work – you know, life, and the getting organized thing is on a back burner till I get a chance to slow down again – October, maybe?

  6. Oh boy, can I relate!! After years of no mudroom, we added a small one when we did our recent big renovation. If I’d realized how GREAT that little room was going to be I would have put more thought into its design. I would have made it twice as big and added a sink and counter (egg washing), storage for cartons, etc. As it is, I have to put the eggs in used cartons into the egg fridge in the mudroom and then, later, pull them out, wash them in the kitchen, and transfer to new/clean cartons for labelling and sale. They are then stored in another fridge before heading out the door to the market, or wherever. It would be great to have my incubators out there, too – and enough room for a couple of people to comfortably pull off sopping outer layers, boots,etc. at the same time. As it is, when two or three of us plus the dogs are trying to get ready in the morning, there’s a lot of bumping, jostling, and apologizing going on… Best of luck moving forward with your plans! When you finally do get the mudroom of your dreams, you’ll love it!

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